Lebanese Priorities: Censoring The Film Out of Beirut’s Film Festival

L'inconnu du Lac movie poster

L’inconnu du Lac movie poster

When I was walking around the streets of Paris a few months ago, a movie poster at one of their newspaper kiosks caught my attention. It was a colorful painting of two men kissing, with stamps of some impact the movie had at the most recent Cannes Festival. It was called “L’Inconnu du Lac.”

I jokingly said to my friend back then that such a movie would never be released in Lebanon because, you know, there’s someone out there whose main concern is my moral well-being. Who needs art? Who needs some degree of taboo breaking? Who needs any form of mental challenges when you have a bureau whose job is to make sure you don’t get the least mentally stimulated?

A year ago, a friend of mine expressed pride in her cousin, a filmmaker named Farah Chaer, who had produced a short movie called “I Offered You Pleasure,” on the widely known but not-spoken-of topic of “Met’a” marriage among Lebanon’s Shiite sect. An interview conducted with the filmmaker back then asked her about the possibility of having her movie censored. I was sure she’d have trouble.

I was right about both movies.

Our bureau of censorship, which censored a play about censorship about a month ago, decided that both movies couldn’t be part of the Beirut Film Festival, which was opened by Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” yesterday, an excellent movie if I may say so.

Our bureau of censorship decided for every single Lebanese that a movie talking about the “met’a” marriage was not to be seen by the Lebanese people. It decided that such an issue is not to be allowed to discussed on screen. It decided that they want to preserve our well-being by banning us from being exposed to that facet of our society that not all of us are aware of.

Our bureau of censorship decided that a movie about a homosexual relationship which had a torrent of praise bestowed on it in Cannes is not suitable for viewers here. It decided that we all have the mental span of a two year old and as such couldn’t withstand having such forms of art approach us without damaging our souls, our precious whole Lebanese souls which should never be maimed by such indecencies. I wonder, what will happen to the movie “Blue Is The Warmest Color,” which won the top award at Cannes and which also has unsimulated lesbian sex scenes? Will we also not be allowed to watch that movie as well because they don’t see it fit?

As Lebanese, we truly don’t have the extent of freedom that we think we do. We can’t discuss religions freely. We can’t discuss politics freely. We can’t discuss politicians freely. We can’t even criticize our president freely. And lately, there’s been a growing phenomenon of censorship that’s been greatly limiting what we get to be exposed to in order to maintain public order.

As a Lebanese today, with such bans I am stopped from having discussions that would otherwise not be possible in my society. I am stopped from being able to get exposed to the culture that exists beyond this country of mine. I am stopped from being able to enjoy this art that is cinema due to the prongs of a bureau that cannot appreciate the art in it. I am forced to remove the film out of the Beirut Film Festival because there’s really no point in having a movie festival where every single scene is not an expression of freedom, but a mere manifestation of some scissors that decided that scene was allowed.

As a Lebanese today, I am very thankful my country has its priorities in order: my morals, ethics and whatnot top that list. As if we can’t download both movies really soon. Wlek tfeh.

Lebanon Censors a Play About Censorship

Some officials in this country don’t seem to live in the same place as people who are worried about going by everyday, about explosions and impeding wars.

Instead, they are more worried about how their reputation plays out through a play that doesn’t even target them in a documentary way. A play about censorship was censored by Lebanon’s bureau of censorship. Why?

1) Because the bureau couldn’t grasp the fact that this is satire.
2) Because the man in question doesn’t require his subordinates to stomp their foot in salutation and was offended the play suggested he does.
3) Because our censorship bureau got offended that a play is making fun of them.
4) Because the play in question was, according to the bureau, “not a work of art but a work of shame.”
5) Because even though there’s no law to dictate we can’t criticize the censorship bureau, they can – according to this article – “forbid whatever [they] want and [they] will forbid it.”

A play is not something that our censorship bureau can cut into little pieces for the audience to watch. They either take it whole or not take it at all. Our bureau has decided not to take any parts of it.
A play is also not something that we can get access to through modern technological means. It’s not the art that has gone digital to become accessible. Instead, our censorship bureau has decided that its sense of moral well-being is best served by stopping every single Lebanese from getting access.

In this act of censorship, this bureau in question has made a bigger fool out of themselves than this play would ever do. They showed us that what we get exposed to is dictated by something that can’t even take a joke.

I’m not one to usually follow the rhetoric of “there are worse things happening to care about this,” but when the country is on the brink of war, this is what is decided to be censored: a play meant to make people smile in these troubling times, instead of all the crap of sectarianism and violence instigation that we are bombarded with everyday by our media. I guess that’s what our bureau likes. Such a shame.

This is the play’s trailer:

Spring Breakers Won’t Be Released in Lebanon

It may have been received with mixed reviews but we won’t get the chance to judge Spring Breakers ourselves, as per a Grand Cinemas tweet – one of Lebanon’s main cinema chains.

Spring Breakers Lebanon

 

Empire isn’t showing the movie as well in its list of upcoming releases.

 

The movie is known to have nudity, drug use and heavy language. It is rated R in the United States. The official synopsis is the following:

Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine) and Faith (Selena Gomez) have been best friends since grade school. They live together in a boring college dorm and are hungry for adventure. All they have to do is save enough money for spring break to get their shot at having some real fun. A serendipitous encounter with rapper “Alien” (James Franco) promises to provide the girls with all the thrill and excitement they could hope for. With the encouragement of their new friend, it soon becomes unclear how far the girls are willing to go to experience a spring break they will never forget.

But are those criteria enough to qualify as the “circumstances” that are not allowing Spring Breakers from having a Lebanese release? I hardly think so. After all, many R-rated movies end up being released here and some Lebanese productions such as Ossit Sawani feature sex scenes as well as drug use – by underage people no less.

Grand Cinemas didn’t reply to tweets asking what those “circumstances” are. It is known, though, that circumstances leading to movies not released here are either political or religious. I doubt though that Spring Breakers violates any of Lebanon’s many sanctities in those two domains.

I guess we’ll never know why Lebanon’s censorship bureau decided this movie shouldn’t be screened here. But when will they know that there’s no such thing as a “ban” in the time and age of digital media? And when will they know that people are aware enough to judge anything’s merit away from their chopping paws?

Spring Breakers will be soon available for download everywhere. Good luck censoring that.

Update:

The SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom followed up on this issue with both the Censorship Bureau and Grand Cinemas.
There has not been yet any official request by the Cinema circuit submitted to the General Security’s bureau to receive an approval for screening the movie. Hence, there was no decision whatsoever, neither positive nor negative, regarding Spring Breakers.
As for Grand Cinemas, they said they still do not know when or if they will want to screen that movie.
So there is no case of censorship for this movie.

No idea why Grand Cinema was referring to “circumstances” in their reply if they haven’t even looked at the movie yet.

Rejecting Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack

The Attack Ziad Doueiri

News of Lebanon’s refusal to submit Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack, a movie I had originally told you about here, to the Oscars is making the rounds. You can check all the details here (link).

If the movie had been banned from being shown in theaters here, the discussion would be different entirely. But is the movie really representative enough of Lebanon to be our submission for the Oscars? And is this refusal enough for us to call the committee responsible for such dealings ignorant and with a backward mentality?

I think not.

The movie features the following:

  • A story by an Algerian author.
  • No Lebanese crew.
  • Israeli and Palestinian actors.
  • Location of shooting is Israel.
  • Lebanese director with an American passport.

Would I want to see the movie? Definitely. Do I want it to represent Lebanon at the Academy Awards? Let’s just say I’m on the fence regarding this.

This isn’t exactly West Beirut for us to cry wolf for it not being submitted. If Ziad Doueiri truly wanted his movie to be Lebanon’s official submission to the 85th Academy Awards (my predictions – to lighten the mood), he could have at least made an effort to make the movie more Lebanese by maybe shooting it over here and not in Israel and having a Lebanese actor or actress play a role in it, despite both elements not being a criteria required for Academy Award approval.

As it stands, the only thing Lebanese about The Attack is the director who wouldn’t have been able to make this movie if he had actually employed his Lebanese aspect from a bureaucratic point of view. The director says his choices regarding the movie’s components are logical.

Well, I say the committee’s decision is entirely logical as well. Not everything is supposed to be turned into a national matter of censorship.

 

My Last Valentine in Beirut To Be Banned?

Leave it to Lebanese movies to reveal inherent complexes among some strata in our society. I have yet to watch My Last Valentine in Beirut and seeing as it’s already been released, I figured it must have passed through the fangs of censorship and landed safely on our screens. But that was too good to last apparently.

No, the problem isn’t with the supposed sex in it. It’s not with the main character being a prostitute. It’s not with the use of “foul” language that might be offensive to some as if people don’t hear the word “sharmou*a” day in day out. The problem with My Last Valentine in Beirut seems to be more clothes-related.

The syndicate of nursing in Lebanon is filing a lawsuit against My Last Valentine in Beirut for using a nurse’s outfit seductively in the movie. The sultry portrayal of nurses in the movie is, according to the syndicate, a violation of the sanctity of their profession. I guess they haven’t played doctor before.

If the demands of the syndicate are met, the movie will be either withdrawn from cinemas or edited to remove these “offensive” scenes. Lebanese filmmakers, regardless of how horrible their movies might be, apparently need to bring in portions from every single part of society for early screenings. You never know what might be in their movies that might be offensive to someone whose mental capacities seem to be limited at best because it seems that lately anyone finds something offensive in absolutely anything and cannot get past it.

You’d think the Lebanese Nursing syndicate would be fighting for the rights of Lebanon’s nurses. You’d think they’d be demanding better wages, better working hours, more benefits. Instead they throw their efforts at My Last Valentine in Beirut because they know that if they make a big enough fuss, someone out there in Lebanon’s narrow-minded censorship bureau will respond. And it’s not like the “sexy nurse” attire in movies hasn’t been overly overdone but feeling empowered only happens when it comes to local productions.

And how about that horrible XXL ad? Doesn’t it have “sexy nurses” for them to sue?

I don’t know if My Last Valentine in Beirut is a good enough movie or not. But I find a request to censor a movie based on what a character wore in it is ridiculous. How silly is it for anyone to find what a character wears in a movie offensive enough to call for the banning or the censoring of said movie? I’m sure even less open countries of the region haven’t had such problems with their productions. And when will people learn that asking to ban anything only brings attention to the thing you want to ban? It happened recently with Tannoura Maxi, which seems to be winning well at international film festivals.

There’s a fine line between fighting for your rights and being absolutely obnoxious. Lebanon’s nursing syndicate is sitting firmly in the nauseating camp. And some wonder where some nurses get their attitude!